1. The great benefactor
This chapter has two objectives: Firstly, it summarizes some of the main points presented in Walt and Mearsheimer’s ”Israel-Lobby”, which aims to show that US economic aid to Israel is the most obvious indicator of the special relationship between the USA and Israel, with this special relationship being attributed to the singular efforts of the US Israel-Lobby.
Secondly, this chapter examines Norway’s economic aid to Palestine in the same light as the above.
Israel as the great benefactor of US economic aid
It is shown how the US provides Israel with “remarkable backing”, with the American taxpayer in effect subsidizing Israel’s economic development and bailing it out in times of financial distress. Israel receives grants and loans on better terms than any other nation. Looking back upon the historical development of the special relationship, it is pointed out that the real “sea change” came during the six days war of 1967. Summed up in three points:
- Israel today receives more money, on better terms, than any other nation. Furthermore there is “no way of telling” how this money is spent.
- In addition to direct bilateral support, Israel is also the recipient of private donations, which subsidize Israel’s colonization of the occupied territories.
- Finally, US aid to other ME countries is in general to be viewed as rewards for good behaviour, most notably their willingness to sign peace treaties with Israel.
Palestine as the great benefactor of Norwegian economic aid
As shown below, figures for 2008 ranks Palestine as the fourth largest beneficiary of Norwegian development aid. In terms of aid pr.capita however, Palestine receives by far more Norwegian development aid than the other leading states on the list. The significance of Norwegian aid becomes even more obvious when we see in it relation to the other indicators in the table: Norwegian development aid equals more than fourteen percent of Palestine’s GDP, which is far higher than that of the other nations on the list. Palestine not only receives more money than the other countries on the list, but far more in relation to its own GDP. More arguably it can also be said that Palestine receives far more than other countries in relation to needs, as we see from the child fatality rate. The latter holds true for only one variable however, as there is no figure for Palestinian HIV victims and Palestine scores lower on school attendance.
Norway and Palestine: a special relationship
Walt and Mearsheimer identify US economic aid to Israel as clear proof of the special relationship that exists between the two countries, and attributes this relationship to the efforts of the US Israel lobby. The screenshot below, from an article in Bistandsaktuelt in 2000, is headed “Palestine at the top” and tells of how Palestinians, per capita, receive almost six times more Norwegian aid than Mocambique. While each Palestinian receives NOK 112, the inhabitants of the world’s poorest country, Bangladesh, receives less than NOK 2.
To the extent that this situation has changed since 1998, it has become stronger. The graph below is based on more recent figures and shows Norwegian development aid per capita to the five largest recipients of Norwegian development aid in total from 2005 to 2008. As we see Norwegian aid to Palestinians per capita is increasing absolutely, as well as relative to the other main recipients. If “remarkable backing” is indicative of a special relationship, driven by a lobby, then is not Norway’s special relationship with Palestine?
Pre 1993: Norwegian development aid is characterized as being “very modest… haphazard… not regulated by guidelines”. Not a consequence of politics as much as it just develops.
1993-1995: Norway becomes second largest donor to PA, after Germany. Annual donations of from NOK 200 to NOK 400 million. In this period of time Norway stands for nine percent of the donations to the Palestinian Territories.
2007, March: Norway is the first western country to lift restrictions on meeting with, and supporting, Hamas. State Secretary Raymond Johansen visits Gaza and meets with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. As a result of this, Israel cancels the intended meetings with Johansen. Source: http://www.development-today.com/magazine/2007/DT_4/News/1256
2007, April: Norway is the first western donor to resume direct aid to the Palestinian government. Jonas Gahr Støre meets with Palestinian Minister of Finance Salam Fayyad in Oslo and states: “The Norwegian government is ready to provide budget support and direct support to Palestinian ministries without any new conditions attached”. Notice that budget support is aid disbursed directly into state coffers without earmarking for specific purposes. Source: http://www.development-today.com/magazine/2007/DT_5-6/News/1743
2009, February : Two issues, firstly who is to channel money. Secondly how much is to be paid. As DT observes: “Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has repeatedly stated in Norwegian media that Israel must bear part of the responsibility for rebuilding civilian infrastructure damaged in the war”.
Transparency and corruption
The great sea change in Norwegian aid to the Palestinians came in 1993/94, when the objective was to supply the PA with sufficient funds to build the fundaments of what was to become a Palestinian state. We can read about the state of affairs at the time in Norsk Utviklingshjelps Historie 3; unauthorized translation:
“The donors faced a formidable task. Suddenly they were to channel billions of dollars in development aid to what was for most of the donors completely new areas, where conditions of authority and responsibilities were chaotic and the infrastructure extremely unstable. Projects and programs were moreover intended to commence quickly. An array of foreign authorities and international organizations streamed to the area, and the coordination between them was small. On the Palestinian side there was a disarray without comparison. There were hardly any recipient institutions in the area. The upper echelons on the Palestinian side floated in the hazy system surrounding Arafat. Plans nobody knew the status of kept appearing. People the donors related to were often replaced, and many were wearing many hats. Warrants came and went. Innumerable fortune-seekers and companies were slushing around, searching for contacts and contracts”.
Under these circumstances it is not surprising to see only a modest degree of success:
“Another problem the fast and large development commitment in a new and chaotic area involved, was financial disarray. A Palestinian audit in 1997 revealed a gap in the self-rule authority’s budget of over to billion, mainly because taxes and duties were not paid as they should have. Corruption was also a huge problem. A EU report concluded in 1998 that “PLO leaders have spent at least NOK 150 million on luxury residences”… Also Norwegian projects suffered from financial disarray and corruption. In a project where Norway was to assist in building up the Ministry for Planning and International Cooperation, the project leader openly admitted that there were several irregularities. Among other there had been illegal withdrawals of more than NOK 500 000, bureaucrats helped themselves to goods, cars and equipment which had been purchased for the project. Even wall-partitions, cutains, carpets, refrigerators and ovens were removed.”
In spite of the difficulties on the recipient’s side, we see that the Norwegian supply of aid flows uninterrupted.
“Another consequence of the strong political desire of going in with large funds to a complex area with ambitions of achieving fast results, was that there developed, in the words of Aftenposten (Major Norwegian daily) a “remarkable party for Norwegian consultants”. Considerable millions were spent on Norwegian consultants, at least fifty million in 1995 and 1996. All the large consultant companies and many smaller were in on the “party”: Fafo, Norconsult, Norplan, Asplan, Soteco, Scanticon, Cesar and Scanteam. One single consultant spent from March 1995 to June 1996 all of NOK 2,7 million of Norwegian development aid funds. The remuneration was NOK 1,7 million, the other costs concerned rent, travel, hotel, car, parabolic aerial and travels for the consultant’s wife.”
One of those who have criticized Norwegian development aid to the Palestinian territories is Kjersti Gravelsæter Berg, a researcher at the University of Bergen. In Bistandsaktuelt no.2 2010 she states a) that the support will only indirectly benefit the population b) that the Palestinian authorities are oppressive c) that budgetary support is difficult to trace and d) that budgetary support to the Palestinian Territories has been an extremely politicized process since the beginning.
Berg’s criticism echoes that made repeatedly by the opposition over the years, as for example in a suggestion from the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee of October 29th 2006 where the Progress Party, Conservatives and Christian Democrats point out that the Palestinian Authorities not only has a history of financial disarray and corruption, but that the democratically elected Hamas government has taken responsibility for hundreds of suicide attacks, many of which have been directed at civilian targets. Source: http://www.stortinget.no/no/Saker-og-publikasjoner/Publikasjoner/Innstillinger/Budsjett/2006-2007/innb-200607-003/4/
Politicized NGOs – Financing the PR war against Israel
Norwegian development aid flows also to NGOs which further, at least in part, the cause of the Palestinian people by delegitimizing and discrediting Israel. As Gerald Steinberg, director of NGO Monitor has shown, these NGOs include: Al Haq, Al Meza, PCHR, Miftah, B’Tselem, PCATI, HaMoked and Gisha. Among Norwegian NGOs either directly engaging in the same practices or financing other NGOs which do we find Norwegian People’s Aid and most notably NORWAC.
Increasing aid to Palestine
When tracking the development from 2006 we find that aid to the Palestinian Territories has increased from NOK 563 million in 2006 to NOK 661 million in 2008. For the same time span we see aid to Zambia, which scores lower than the Palestinian Territories on all central indicators except elementary education, we see that Norwegian development aid has increased by only NOK 2 million, from NOK 416 in 2006 to NOK 418 in 2008.
Just as Walt and Mearsheimer find that the USA has a special relationship with Israel, we see that Norway has a special relationship with Palestine; support is huge, increasing, politicized and difficult to trace. The Norwegian taxpayer bails out the Palestinian authorities in times of distress. Due to the widespread corruption in the Palestinian Territories however, the great beneficiary in this relationship is not the Palestinian people as a whole but rather their leaders alone.
Overall, the difference between the US and Norwegian lobbies lies not in the manner of support, but in the nature of the recipient of that support as well as in acknowledgement of the special relationship. While the US has a special relationship to the only democratic nation in the Middle East, Norway has developed a special relationship with the largely corrupt Fatah and the genocidal Hamas, which bases its charter on “The protocols of the elders of Zion”, a anti-Semitic piece of propaganda developed by the Russian secret police.
The special relationship between the USA and Israel is well known and constantly scrutinized and more often than not also misunderstood. The US Israel-Lobby is recognizable, identified and subjected to widespread criticism. Meanwhile Norway’s special relationship with the Palestinian elites flies “below the radar”; it is not recognized for what it is. Instead, the lobby and the relationship is cloaked in the guise of objective, non-judgemental humanitarianism.
The invisibility of the Norwegian Palestine-Lobby is worthy of attention for two reasons: 1) it is an example of double standards. When Israel receives support, it is said that they have a “lobby”. When Palestinians receive support, it is draped in the mantles of humanitarianism. 2) it is indicative of the strength of the lobby. It has to such an extent succeeded in merging with key players in Norwegian society that mainstream commentators hesitate to identify it, even though its existence is just as evident as that of the Israel-Lobby in the US.
Even more importantly, the relations between the USA and Israel have no direct bearing upon Norway and the relationship between them should be of secondary interest to Norwegians. Yet we still see that it is exactly this relationship that Norwegian journalists, researchers and analysts are eager to devote energy and resources to, while the Palestine-lobby in Norway, a domestic phenomenon, is allowed to go about its business unobserved.
 Bistandsaktuelt http://www.bistandsaktuelt.no/Nyheter+og+reportasjer/Arkiv+nyheter+og+reportasjer/Visning+Artikkel+(arkiv)?key=116004
 Norsk Utviklingshjelps Historie 3, Fredsnasjonen Norge
 “Extremely politicized aid” Kjersti Gravelsæter Berg, Bistandsaktuelt nr.2, mars 2010